A ruling this week by the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, puts a big question mark on the future of red light camera programs such as the one used by the city of Excelsior Springs.
While Judge Thea Anne Sherry rejected the claims of most of the appeal filed by Molly Edwards, et al., against the city of Ellisville and American Traffic Solutions, Inc., the court did overturn a trial court’s finding that most municipal red light camera programs conflict with state law and are, therefore, void and unenforceable.
The appeals case stems from a lawsuit filed by four pairs of litigants—Molly and Anthony Edwards, Gregory and Amanda Bissell, John and Shella Annin and Joseph and Salvatore Cusumano—against Ellisville and ATS, which is the same Arizona-based vendor through which Excelsior Springs and several other Missouri municipalities have their red light camera programs.
In light of the ruling, at least some of the communities that could fall under the same stipulations have suspended the use of the cameras in issuing tickets until further notice. Excelsior Springs is among them.
“Tuesday’s ruling by the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, has caused the city of Excelsior Springs to temporarily halt all processing of photo-enforced red light violations,” the Excelsior Springs Police Department said in a statement released Thursday. “While we understand the ruling only applies to the eastern district, we feel it is imperative to be in compliance with any Missouri court decision.”
The ESPD’s statement further added that even violations which are in process will be halted. “Local pending violations will be placed on hold awaiting further procedural decisions either through revision of local ordinance, state law or a clarifying Missouri Supreme Court Ruling,” the statement read.
In the class action appeal, the petitioners challenged a trial court’s rulings on eight counts. They asked for a declaratory judgment on the constitutionality, validity and conformity with state law of Ellisville’s red light camera ordinance, as well as that city’s authority to enact the ordinance. They also claimed unjust enrichment and money had and received against both Ellisville and ATS, violation of the self-incrimination clause of the Missouri Constitution, violation of the due process clause of the Missouri Constitution and civil conspiracy against Ellisville and ATS.
The Annins and Cusumanos were dismissed from the case because, as representatives of a subclass of plaintiffs who had received notices of violation but had not paid fines—and therefore had an outstanding citation—the court found that they currently have a legal remedy available to them through their municipal court proceeding.
The Edwardses and Bissells, however, paid their fines and, as such, had been “directly and adversely affected by the ordinance.” However, several of the counts claimed in the case, including due process claims and claims of unjust enrichment and money had and received, were dismissed because they voluntarily paid their fines.
The crux of the appellate court’s ruling—and the part that has the most potentially far-reaching consequences—lay in the finding that the red light camera ordinance used by the city of Ellisville conflicts with state law.
Ellisville’s ordinance, like those used by Excelsior Springs and other municipalities, classifies a violation caught by a red light camera as a non-moving violation and assigns no “points” to the violation. Accordingly, these violations are assigned to the vehicle and its owner rather than the driver, as a moving violation would be.
However, while the ordinances usually use wording such as a vehicle “being present” in an intersection after the light has turned red, the appellate court ruled that state law applies traffic light violations to pedestrians and drivers of vehicles, not to the vehicles themselves. Further, the court found that it was impossible for a vehicle to be present in an intersection during a solid red light without some movement by the vehicle.
In addition, the court ruled that state law assesses two points against the driver’s license of any driver who commits a moving violation. Because the court found that a traffic light violation is a moving violation, not a non-moving violation, local ordinances conflict with state law by not assessing points for red light violations.
The appeals court did acknowledge that the ruling issued this week goes against its own prior finding in City of Creve Coeur v. Nottebrok, “which held that a similar red light camera ordinance regulating ‘presence’ did not conflict with Missouri law governing the assessment of points for moving violations. To the extent our holding conflicts with our opinion in Nottebrok,” the ruling explained, “Nottebrok is overruled and no longer good law.”
A statement from ATS said that due to conflicting rulings, they expected the Missouri Supreme Court would need to “clarify the procedures cities must use for the issuance of citations.” The statement went on to say that “the court must also determine whether the Department of Revenue’s determination that automated enforcement safety camera violations do not require the assessment of points can be overturned by violator class action lawsuits.”
The ESPD also stipulated that past violations are not open to reinterpretation. “The court’s decision affirmed that there is no remedy for previously paid violations and no refunds will be issued,” the statement read. “Violations that occur in the future will continue to accrue awaiting procedural guidance from the courts.”
Any questions regarding local violations may be directed to the Excelsior Springs Municipal Court, 816-630-0209.
By Eric Copeland • firstname.lastname@example.org